Sandy’s Volunteer Extraordinaire: When the City Calls, She’s Ready

People walk through the Breezy Point section of Queens, New York after fire destroyed about 80 homes as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Stan Honda, AFP / Getty Images

As soon as Nuris Barzey-Ramos found out how destructive Hurricane Sandy might be, she rushed back from Parents’ Weekend at her daughter’s college in Massachusetts and promptly reported for volunteer duty at a makeshift shelter at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.

Shortly after Sandy made landfall, evacuees from nearby Breezy Point began to arrive at Hillcrest. Many had lost their homes in the electrical fire that destroyed 100 houses. “I tried to calm them down,” said Barzey-Ramos. “I assured them that the City of New York is not going to let them down. You’re not going to be let go without us helping you find a place to stay.”

Barzey-Ramos stayed at the shelter for days on end, returning home briefly to sleep and eat. “It’s hard sometimes when I get home and I just want to sleep for the entire next day,” she said. She brings water, fruit, and nuts in her tote bag to the shelter each day.

Barzey-Ramos has been volunteering for decades, ever since she moved to New York at age 14 from the Dominican Republic. She teaches Saturday morning Bible classes for children at her church, St. Joachim and St. Ann Parish in Queens Village, and volunteered in shelters in New York after 9/11 and Hurricane Irene. “It was wonderful to see how many volunteers of all ages got together. I became friends with many of them and we still talk,” she says of her years of volunteer work. “I always feel that my responsibility is to New Yorkers in need.”

For fun, she organizes softball teams with her co-workers at the Human Resources Administration. “I’m a medium player but a good organizer,” she says.

“New Yorkers always stick together, especially in times of crisis,” she says. “We become one.”